Blessings by the Pound

The summer is flying by in a blur of good work, awesome trips, and rolling heat waves! But as the old saying goes, I am:

Too Blessed 2 Be Stressed

One clear highlight amid the menagerie: meeting Paula Poundstone at a Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me taping in Chicago!

Paula Poundstone with adoring fans in Chicago

The suit? “You never know when you’re going to have to serve ice cream.”

She is as divine as I expected; perhaps more. I mean, just look at her suit!! I was so happy to have decided on the striped top that day. #twinsies

Until the next dispatch, big summer blessings to all.

Building Tamir’s Legacy

If I were a faster thinker, I would have a handful of pithy, insightful takeaways prepared to share with you following the hour-long phone conversation I had with Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice, late last month. But alas, my brain is of the slow drip variety, and I’m still processing it all. (Or, as Tom Robbins so wonderfully put it, I’m still lapidating it in the old cerebral gem tumbler.)

What I can tell you now is that Samaria was remarkably open with me, a total stranger. I am always interested and honored when people I interview feel at ease enough to go off script, to keep going after our allotted time, to share with me some of the more personal details of their stories. In this case, I was bowled over by Samaria’s willingness to speak candidly about the death of her son, and about the many kinds of trials she’s endured in its wake. I will long remember her adaptability and determination.

Tamir Rice Cleveland brick building

Tamir Rice and the Cleveland building where a youth center will be opened in his name

As I continue to reflect on my talk with Samaria, I invite you to hear her in her own words in this story I wrote for ioby. Through June 25, Samaria is raising money to renovate the building that will become The Tamir Rice Afrocentric Center, a youth center she’s founding in her son’s name, as well as to host a Sweet Sixteen party for him at the Cleveland Museum of Art this very evening.

If you appreciate Samaria’s work, please consider giving to her campaign.

ArtPlace America: Birthdays & Anniversaries Edition

I like birthday parties as a rule, but when attending one leads to new friends, new work, and new travel possibilities, my like grows into love.

Such was the case a year ago last May, when I met Sarah Westlake—esteemed writer, teacher, and editor of the ArtPlace America blog—at a birthday party in (where else?) Brooklyn. It turned out we had some friends, some favorite beers, and some editorial pursuits in common. She told me she might have some work for me in the future, and before parting ways, we exchanged business cards. I was excited, but tried to keep calm, since I’ve learned anything can happen in the wild world of freelancing.

ArtPlace Annual Summit 2018 Polaroid Louisville Kentucky

A vision of things to come
(portrait by the singular Eli Keel: twitter.com/thateli)

Happily, this chance meeting was not my last with Sarah. Fast forward a handful of months, and I was pitching her story ideas and starting to write some posts. (You can peep the first few here, on the topics of: health equity and art; preserving black culture in gentrifying neighborhoods; and a public utility’s investment in their community’s story.)

I was already stoked with the new gig, but when Sarah asked if I could cover a couple of upcoming creative placemaking conferences happening in other states, my stoked-ness increased. While I’ve learned that traveling for work has its ups and downs, I still get a kick out of it. Plus I had never been to Madison, New Jersey (“A Town Right Out of Central Casting“) or Louisville, Kentucky (home of bourbon, baseball bats, and that famous derby), which meant one more uptick on the stoked-o-meter. So I packed my bags and experienced every major public transit typology to help document the Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit’s Northeastern Corridor Conference on May 3 & 4 and the ArtPlace 2018 Annual Summit, May 21 – 23.

If I were to sum up these trips in two words, I would use the words: GOOD STUFF.

My posts from the events are still in process, so I’ll have to leave you with that verbal cliffhanger for now, but I can share a handful of my choice snaps from in and around the proceedings:

Woven tapestry featuring people

One of Ebony G. Patterson’s remarkable photo tapestries
(exhibited at the 21c Museum Hotel Louisville)

Shine Bright cardinal mural downtown Louisville Kentucky

Rad mural in downtown Louisville
(if anyone knows who painted it, please leave a comment!)

Skippy in the trash can

One or another of America’s finer airports, exhorting you to throw your perfectly good food and toiletries into the garbage

A big thank you to Sarah, ArtPlace, and a couple of groovy U.S. states I don’t often get to for extending me such a warm welcome this past year. I hope our relationships can enjoy that most oft-uttered of birthday wishes: many happy returns.

Small world: Sassy dictionary tweets, meet progressive Southerners

Sometimes, it all comes together.

For the back cover of the Spring 2018 issue of Sarah Lawrence magazine (theme: “democracy & education”), I had the great good fortune of interviewing SLC alumna Lauren Naturale, former Content and Social Media Manager for Merriam-Webster—aka the woman behind all those sassy tweets that helped get you through the beginning of the Trump administration. I’m not on Twitter much myself, but even I followed along.

In person, Lauren was even more incisive than her famous tweets, while also being warm and funny.  Our conversation netted way more good material than the cover could contain, so my editor and I put together a fun “web extra” to take some of the spillover.

Word Nerds story with photo of blonde woman

Click for the full story!

That would have been enough awesome for me for one issue. But I also got to write about the invincible Polly Hoben Greenberg, a college alumna and one of the brains behind the Child Development Group of Mississippi, which launched that state’s Head Start program. Among other brilliant moves, Greenberg helped to recruit local black women with little formal education to lead those Head Start classrooms, and she produced an album of children’s music that included many freedom songs and spirituals and was released by Folkways Records (now a part of the Smithsonian).

Vinyl LP with little boy making peace sign

Click for the full story!

Definitely an embarrassment of riches now, right? But wait, folks—there’s more!

The cover story of this issue is Moises Serrano, an imminent SLC alumnus and rising star activist for both Dreamers and LGBTQ rights. In anticipation of the issue coming out, Arthur and I watched the award-winning documentary Forbidden: Undocumented & Queer in Rural America, which follows Moises through several seasons of his life and work. About 15 minutes in, there’s a scene in a small church in North Carolina where Moises is presenting about the lesser-known hardships many immigrant communities face, like depression and teen suicide.

Forbidden documentary Moises Serrano

Click for the full story!

“Hey, is that Zach?” we suddenly asked each other. We ran back the video and yep, there he was: Arthur’s uncle Zach sitting in a pew, nodding thoughtfully to Moises’ words. What were the chances?! Zach—a former minister, current health care justice advocate, and lifelong civil rights activist—showed up again thirty minutes later, in another clip from the church event. Guess great minds are bound to be in the same place at the same time.

While I think every issue of Sarah Lawrence is worth reading (and I’m not biased at all), this one makes some particularly good connections.

When to request a wizard on live radio

Two years ago this evening, my husband (who was then a lowly fiance) and I called up the host of Pyramid Power!, a monthly radio show that broadcasts on WGXC 90.7-FM, a community station based in New York’s Greene and Columbia counties.

Man and woman inside green pyramid

Pyramid Power! in action

The show is great—full, as its show page promises, of “amplified thought forms,” “sounds from this planet and others,” and “space news and self-help.”

But the reason we dialed its digits that April night was not (solely) to profess our love for radio programming well done. It was to ask the esteemed host of Pyramid Power!, one Sarah Van Buren, to be our wedding officiant. Except that’s not exactly how we put it. I know because I saved the script we wrote so we wouldn’t choke on the air!

Unison: Sarah!
April: This is your friends April and Arthur in Brooklyn!
Arthur: We’re calling to say that we love Pyramid Power!
April: And that, as you know, we’re getting married in Hudson this October, which is very exciting!
Arthur: And we’re thinking about our ceremony, and realizing that it isn’t a job for a priest
April: or a rabbi
Arthur: or a justice of the peace
April: or even a Love Boat captain
Unison: We need a WIZARD!!!
April: A wizard who will sanctify our cosmic adventure
Arthur: and unite us by the power invested in the pyramid!
April: So, we’re not asking for you to reply now, BUT!
Unison: Would you be our wedding wizard???!!!
Arthur: We’ll take our answer off the air! <3 <3 <3

You can hear bits of it here, starting at about 1:25:00. We are happily squished between some Constance Demby space bass and Led Zeppelin’s “In The Light,” but you’ll get the drift.

We asked Sarah to marry us for many reasons. I’ve known her since I was her Resident Assistant in the Arlington dorm at Emerson College back in the ’90s. Since then, we’ve taken part in uncountable adventures, both together and together in spirit, including unprepared car camping in California:

Woman outdoors with plastic bag hat

dance parties galore:

Woman in black dancing in red makeup

and at least one Polar Bear swim on New Year’s day:

People smiling on a beach

 

After Hurricane Sandy, I biked some peanut butter sandwiches down to Coney Island and followed Sarah around while she photographed the wreckage. When she was working at a gourmet food store in Brooklyn and I also had a shite-paying job, she’d hide their day-old bread in a paper bag near Prospect Park and text me so I could pick it up. We’ve been to Trees of Mystery together, we’ve had blue margaritas with her family on Easter together. We’ve ridden the Skunk Train and cried over breakups and once she decorated this Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’77 LP exclusively for my birthday:

Sérgio Mendes and Brasil '77 record album

On top of all that, she rides a motorcycle.

She has gravitas.

And she knows how to, as the Germans say, make party.

Sarah first met Arthur at an old apartment of mine, shortly before she moved to Wales for a while. In him, she recognized a fellow devout music-head. He still remembers her dazzling hand gestures. I felt so happy that day, and remain so grateful, that these two impeccable people are two of my best friends, and that they also see the genius in each other.

To our great thrill that night in April 2016, Sarah immediately granted Arthur’s and my wedding request, over a cacophony of mutually delighted cackles. Six months later, dressed in head-to-toe wizard regalia, she joined us in holy matrimony in a 19th-century steel forge and foundry.

But not before she had led some of our guests in a pre-wedding pose of some mystical import:

People balancing on one foot in a circle

Was it Pyramid Power?

Isn’t it always?

To bee or not to bee (hint: it’s the first one)

UPDATE: Our bees got us in The New York Times! Happy to have gotten my 15 minutes of fame with a box of bees on my back.

Man and woman on bicycles with box of honeybees


The trouble began three years ago this June, when I wrote a blog post for a client about a couple of fun-loving guys from Pennsylvania who’d endeavored to disrupt beekeeping.

This was not a joke! They built a modular honeybee hive called BEEcosystem that combined the visibility of a classic observation hive (the kind you might see at a science fair) with the workability of a classic Langstroth hive (the kind you see dotting the idyllic, sheep-fuzzy farm in your dreams).

Langstroth beehives in a field of lavendar

Thanks for the idyll, Homesteading.com!

It was cool. I enjoyed the fact that the hive’s inventors wanted people to know about and care about and see bees—these excellent creatures who are responsible for producing much of our food, and who offer us interesting ideas about our own behavior and habits. I also just liked that it was a wooden hexagon that hangs on the wall. That’s a good look.

But if you had told me that in the winter of 2018, my husband and I would make the nutty late-night decision to order a BEEcosystem and start shelling out hundreds of dollars for beekeeping classes, specialty accoutrement with names like “veils” and “smokers,” and (yes, this is how they do it) a three-pound package of LIVE BEES, well.

I would totally have believed you.

There is a LOT to know about keeping bees. (Did I think there wouldn’t be?!) We rushed out and got our copy of Beekeeping for Dummies, enrolled in a daylong beekeeping primer, and have been checking hourly to see when the UPS man is going to pull up with our booty so we can start officially freaking out.

The class was very informative, and enjoyable, led as it was by Andrew Coté, who I have come to understand is something of a giant in this world. He’s one of the main humans behind Andrew’s Honey, the New York City Beekeepers Association, and Bees Without Borders. This is him last Saturday, with the first slide he presented:

Andrew Cote beekeeping class slide projection

At least he was honest about what we’re in for!

Other highlights of the day included this slide that features his father next to a swarm of bees engulfing a statue’s head in the sculpture garden at MoMA:

Bee swarm engulfing head of statue

And the live smoker demo fellow beekeeper Flynn gave us in Columbus Circle:

Man with bee smoker

In reality, the class was much more substantive than these photos suggest. I suppose it’s just that nothing can prepare you a hundred percent for taking on a hardcore hobby like keeping bees. You just have to leap in—preferably veil on.

Ow!

Thanks for ruining our vices

“So it’s like A Modest Proposal?” my husband asked me as we sweated side by side on a couple of Planet Fitness elliptical machines this morning.

“Eh, I’m not even proposing anything,” I said. “I’m just… making a joke. Kind of.”

While I appreciated the comparison to old Jon Swift, I couldn’t describe the two-minute read I posted on Medium last night as an elegant satire, a send-up of our times, or a grand hyperbole. It’s really just an odd insight I stumbled on.

NRA story on Medium

Click for the full story!

After writing it, I had a similar thought about smoking. Sure, tobacco’s never been good for you, but when I used to hear about badass old Native Americans with their ceremonial pipes, or see James Dean with that unfiltered Chesterfield pressed between his lips, I would think COOL.

Yankton Sioux Red Lodge ceremonial pipe James Dean smoking

Now, decades into big tobacco’s relentless pushery and indescribably evil chemical additions to an already junky product, smoking can’t be cool anymore. It can’t be a casual pastime. It can’t be fun. It just reeks of death.

Same with guns. NRA and big tobacco: thanks for nothing!!

The far-reaching effects of police misconduct

New York Police Department Times Square NYC photo credit Meriç Dağlı

When I first heard about BuzzFeed News’s exposé of NYPD misconduct from the new owner of Bushwick Daily, I had two thoughts almost simultaneously:

  • Sounds like a scoop! Way to go, investigative reporters.
    .
    and
    .
  • But everyone knows there’s police misconduct. What are they going to reveal that’s new?

For better and worse, the answer is plenty.

Ace reporters Kendall Taggart and Mike Hayes published “Secret NYPD Files: Officers Can Lie And Brutally Beat People — And Still Keep Their Jobs” two days ago. (And I was pleased to hear them with Brian Lehrer on WNYC yesterday. My hat’s off to all of you!)

They found:

  • Some NYPD employees who have been allowed to stay on the force after repeatedly lying in court have sent innocent people to prison—and kept guilty people from doing time.
    .
  • New York taxpayers foot the bill to settle accusations against errant officers who continue to serve, sometimes to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars per officer—on top of paying some of them six-figure salaries.
    .
  • The secrecy and subjectivity of NYPD misconduct trials mean life-altering case decisions can easily be made based on the simple personal prejudice of one police commissioner—and cannot be challenged.

Today, I was pleased to share a summary of Taggart and Hayes’s findings and some information about alleged misconduct in Brooklyn’s 83rd Precinct with the Bushwick Daily community. You can read the post here.

A brush with vegan greatness

Last night, Arthur and I celebrated Valentine’s Day a day early—because even vegetarian restaurants are booked hella far ahead for V-Day in Brooklyn!

We settled on Modern Love in Williamsburg, purveyors of “swanky vegan comfort food.” Not only did this restaurant’s name scream Valentine’s Day, but our excellent realtor and friend Alison McQueen had given us a Modern Love gift card to say congrats after we closed on our house last year (thanks again, Alison!). The stars seemed to be aligning.

Vegan cheese plate with fruit, cocktail, and flower

Part 1: Into the (nut cheese) void*

We walked in to find the place abuzz with well-dressed veg-heads.

We opened our menus and found approximately two dozen mouthwatering choices.

And then, We Saw Her.

“Hey—by the host stand in the black overalls. Do you think that’s…?” Arthur asked me.

“Holy crikey! Maybe!” I replied, craning my neck.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz is the brains (and at least some of the brawn) behind such legendary acts of veganism as Post Punk KitchenVeganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook, and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World—as well as Modern Love, which also has an Omaha location (of course).

Woman with glasses holding a plate of food in a restaurant

Our lady in the flesh!

We were giddily discussing the possible implications of sharing a thousand-square-foot space with this mythical woman when the colorful fruit and cheese plate pictured above was set down on our table by none other than… the Notorious ICM herself!

While we blinked alternately at the plate and up at her, she explained each cheese and cracker variety to us (including their homemade Cheez-Its). When she was done, I ventured:

“Um, are we having a celebrity sighting right now?”

She looked at us, and with delicious deadpan, said:

“Yup, I’m Sarah Silverman.”

Then she walked back to the kitchen.

Isa, we love you even more now.

 

*Sorry, folks—that’s an inside joke with the Arthur-man. Happy Valentine’s, my sweet!

Faces of Work

In my experience, what we might call the architecture of work is not the same for freelancers as it is for full-time employees of organizations. The idea—and the doing—of work hang differently on a sole proprietor’s frame than they do on a company’s. For one thing, when you’re on your own, it’s your job to build the frame itself—as well as to make whatever you’re going to fill in with!

Powersuit Making Workshop at the Wassaic Art Festival 2012

Maybe you’ll make a powersuit!

When you start out to work for yourself, there is no path or plan ahead of you. There is no preexisting ladder to climb or maze to figure out: you have to make your own goals and your own route to reach them. There are no preordained titles to aspire to: you have to decide what you want to be called. There are no rules to chafe against: if the company culture sucks at You LLC, it’s YOU who has to change!

Woman standing in a green garden with a rake

Sarah, YOU should never change! You’re great.

These and many other aspects of work have been on my mind lately. Simultaneously, I’ve recently found myself captivated by others’ musings on work. Rather than try to deduce whether the chicken or the egg came first, I’ll just share two perspectives that have most recently tugged at my brain-strings.

Blonde woman with sewing machine

Another Sarah tugs at another type of strings.

  • “The Spirit of Work” by Marie Corelli. The variously regarded English novelist and mystic touches on lots of potent themes in this fin de siècle essay, such as the attitude of the worker determining the quality of the work; the weirdness of humans trying to elevate and separate themselves from the brilliant workings of nature; the notion that the having of love makes anything easy and the lack of it makes anything hard; the recommendation that everyone should learn a trade as part of their education; the misuse of the word “common” as an insult; and the fact that “‘gentlemen’ are not made by position, but by conduct.”
     
    Man holding cup on roof

    Neil T is a gentleman whether he’s working or working it

    Among many other gems (and some hyperbole I am actually not down with, such as basically suggesting that people never take a day off), Corelli also invokes Goethe, whose “inspiring lines should animate the mind and brace the energies of every worker :—.

    ‘Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute,
    Whatever you can do, or dream you can—begin it;
    Boldness has genius, power, magic in it;
    Only engage,—and then the mind grows heated;
    Begin!—and then the work will be completed.’ ”

    If that doesn’t get you jazzed to do something, perhaps you would feel more at home in the company of the “toadies, time-servers, and hypocrites of the community” whom Corelli depicts as crawling “before a trumpery ‘title’ as abjectly as a beaten cur trails its body along in the dust under the whip of its master.” Dang, girl! Sing it. Nice use of “trumpery,” too.

    Woman opening bottle of wine while camping

    Cynthia has never committed trumpery in her life.

  • Jerry Seinfeld interviewed by David Remnick. A century or so after Corelli, top-tier funny guy Seinfeld dropped such interesting insights about work during this exchange that I listened to it all the way through twice. When Remnick asked him what made him think he could be a comedian, he said:
    .
     ………“The truth is, I really didn’t think that I could. And I didn’t really care whether I could or I couldn’t. I just got to this point where I was so in love with it that I just decided, ‘What’s the difference?’ It seemed much more important to me to do the thing you want to do than success or failure.
    .
    ……….“This is 1975, you know, and we were still [in] a little bit of the vapors of the ’60s, where you did what you believed in. It wasn’t a ‘success’ culture, it was more of a ‘soul’ culture, I think.”
    .
    Soul culture!! Who among my fellow Gen X’ers—we who are coming to terms with our vocational destinies while wading through a waist-deep culture-sea frothy with vocoded singing, native advertising, and a bank storefront in every formerly vacant lot—does not envy this description of someone’s adolescent zeitgeist?!

    Man with headphones and laptop in easy chair

    Drew’s productions might occasionally involve a vocoder, but they remain excellent.

    A bit later, Remnick asked Seinfeld how long it takes him to prepare an hour-long stand-up show. He replied:

     ………“That’s like asking God how much time goes into an oak tree. He says, ‘I don’t know. I do it every day, I do it all day. I don’t know, I plant the tree, it grows, eventually it’s an oak tree, who the hell cares? It’s all I can do. I don’t know.'”

I think all of us—freelancers or employees, plumbers or pundits—do well to meditate on work and our relationship with it from time to time. Whether it’s been hunting our food to eat, breaking rocks in the hot sun to appease the man, or selling insurance to yacht owners, people have always spent lots of our time working. Let’s do what we can to make it time well spent.

Woman standing in office Lichtenstein

Yours truly working hard—or hardly working?!—in arts administration circa 2006.